Christmas Letter 2014

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With Sam, Noah, and Madalyn at HillBilly Hideaway in NC

Merry Christmas from Jake and Hayley Prahlow! We hope that this missive finds you warm, well-fed (though not overly so, of course), and celebrating the joy of the Savior’s birth this December. 2014 has been another year of tremendous change for our family. Throughout everything that has happened this year, we have been reminded of our need to rely on the mercy of our gracious God and trust in Him, no matter where the path of life leads us. Continue reading

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Church Search Update

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long BeachIt’s been a while since our last Church Search post and people have been inquiring about where we stand in our search, so I thought I would take some time to offer e brief update this morning.

First, I want to thank everyone for your prayers as we wrestle with various issues, for your interest in our search, and for the stream of suggested books/blogs/churches to consider/places to visit. From the start of this process, we have sought “accountability” through sharing our experiences online, and it’s been very encouraging to have people checking in with us, especially on those days when we’re really not sure what the next step is going to be. Continue reading

Reflections Upon a Move

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

It’s that time of the year again: time for school to start again after a few glorious months of fun, relaxation, and vacation time. Or at least, that’s how it used to be. In recent years, summer has meant work, as in, “Time to make money so you don’t die during the school year.” In addition to work, however, two of my past three summers have involved some a bit more time consuming (and expensive) than taking a vacation: moving.

Two years ago I left home, along with my wife a few months, and deposited myself in Winston-Salem (NC) in order to pursue a master’s degree in religion at Wake Forest University. While experiencing several long-distance moves whilst younger, there’s nothing quite like loading all of your worldly possessions (or at least those you don’t leave in boxes in your parents’ basement) into a car and moving twelve hours away from what has been your life.

We learned lots during our time in Winston-Salem. There were good times and bad times, fun experiences along with heartache, moments of celebration and periods of uncertainty and pain. We made some great friends and grew closer to extended family during our time in the South, and (I believe) emerged better, more balanced people as a result of our two years in North Carolina. Yet all good things must come to an end, and it was truly with a mix of sadness and expectation that we loaded up our moving truck last week (with the help of my brother Sam) and trekked some twelve hours west to Saint Louis, Missouri.

Twelve hours gives one lots of time to talk, and Hayley and I reflected upon our time in Winston-Salem during many of those hours. It was sad to leave yes, less for the place than the people whom we had grown to love. Friends from work and school will be sorely missed, though Facebook and (hopeful) return visits help dampen such pain. Having been born in North Carolina, there are family connections that will be missed as well. We began our time in Winston with one wedding of Hayley’s cousins and departed mere hours after another wedding, two bookends to some great times with family. Winston-Salem was, in many ways, the ideal place for Hayley and I to begin our life together, and we are thankful for all of the memories that were forged there.

... In with the new.

… In with the new.

Twelve hours in a moving truck also gives one lots of time to think, at least when one’s wife is napping. Moving offers opportunities. Chances to start fresh, forge new habits, meet new people, experience things not possible at the old place, form new friendship, and learn new lessons about life. There’s something exciting about moving to a new city to start a five-year journey to a PhD, complete with all the reading and research. it entails It will also be nice to be much closer to our immediate families – five hours is very (very) different than twelve.

But moving is challenging too. You have to learn where the grocery store is, figure out the place with the least expensive gas, navigate new traffic patterns and rush hours, find new internet service providers which are a pain to deal with (or is that just me?), find a new church family, and form a new community of friends. New jobs must be secured, new habits formed, and new experiences had, all of which can be rather daunting.

We are glad to be in Saint Louis safely, and excited to see what God has in store for us hear over the next several years. Thank you for journeying along with us here at Pursuing Veritas.

Church Search: Beginning the Second Phase

This post is part of our ongoing Church Search. For more information, please click here or visit the Church Search tab above.

PENTAX ImageFor the past year (with some interruptions), Hayley and I have been visiting different churches, some for only a week and others for more extended periods of time, as part of the “First Exposure” phase of our Church Search. These visits have been to a purposefully broad range of churches, both to denominations we thought we might seriously consider, as well as several visits which were primarily aimed toward experiencing other forms of Christianity and gaining an appreciated for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. As a result of this “First Exposure” phase, we have learned lots and gained some insights into where we should investigate further as part of our “Serious Considerations Phase.”

In this second phase, we intend to engage several churches/denominations more intensely as we seek to understand where we will best fit in the People of God. This investigation will involve two primary steps: First, extensive research on the churches we are considering. This means engaging additional written works theologians, pastors, and teachers within each respective denomination that we are considering, as well as seeking in-depth conversations with pastors and members of the local churches that we are visiting. A second step will be multiple visits to the churches/denominations we are considering. Here we intend to visit not only specific churches multiple times, but also to visit multiple churches within the denominations that we are considering. Where possible, we hope to visit at least three different churches in each denomination, at least one of which we will visit three or four times.

After much thought, prayer, and conversation, we have narrowed down the churches we are considering into three broad categories: Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopal/Anglican. We have come to recognize the internal diversity within each of these labels, and thus again emphasize that these are the broad denominational categories which we are considering. That said, the central theme that we have found to be important in our faith lives is the balance of ancient truth and tradition with contemporary applicability and service. That is, by-and-large these churches (or certain parts of these churches) seek to balance scripture, liturgy, tradition, worship, and living Christian love. It is for this reason that we have decided to focus our search on these three groups of churches.

Through our experiences with each of these churches already, we have already experienced that no church is a perfect church, primarily because we are there. Yet we are excited to learn and experience more fully how God and His people are learning, living, and loving in these churches. Though we have learned much already, we recognize that God is but beginning His work in our lives, and eagerly await this next phase in our journeys, including the part where we leave Winston-Salem (NC) and move to St. Louis (MO) in a few weeks time. We ask for your prayers and guidance as we continue this search, and look forward to sharing more with you in the months to come.

Church Search: Roman Catholic Church

This post is part of our ongoing Church Search. For more information on our search and the churches we have visited already, please click here. During the “First Exposure” phase of our search, we are visiting different churches to gain a basic understanding of their doctrines and practices. Following these visits, we will post some of the basic doctrinal and practical considerations of the church we visited, as well as some thoughts on our experiences.

Basic History

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The Roman Catholic Church claims a history as long as the history of the Christian Church itself. It does injustice to Church History (and the history of Western Civilization) to summarize the history of the church in a paragraph; yet here we must. So, in as much of a nutshell as possible: the Apostle Peter is said to have founded the Church at Rome and been its first bishop, setting the stage for the Roman Church’s leadership for the next two centuries (and indeed, the amount of early Christian literature coming from Rome at least partially supports this claim). While the Western Church was less involved in the great Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, they nonetheless affirmed the teachings of those councils (as well as the three additional councils of the sixth through eighth centuries). As the dominant city and church of the Western Roman Empire, the prestige and influence of the Roman Church and her bishop steadily increased throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Western Roman Church suffered a series of splits from the Eastern Roman Church (commonly called the Byzantine or Orthodox Church) over the course of the tenth through thirteenth centuries, most famously in 1054 CE. The rise of scholasticism (c. 1100-1700 CE), impact of the Protestant Reformation (begun 1517 CE), and challenge of the Enlightenment further shaped the doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic Church, most notably in the Council of Trent (1545-63 CE) and First Vatican Council (1868-70 CE). Of greatest importance in our times has been the Second Vatican Council (1962-5 CE), and the worldwide prominence of certain popes, most notably Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) and the current pontiff, Francis. The Roman Catholic Church has more than 1.2 billion members around the world, making it the largest Christian communion.

Doctrinal Considerations (Where possible from the Catechism of the Church)

Much like the long and varied history of the Roman Catholic Church, there are countless Catholic doctrinal points which we could discuss. For the sake of brevity, we will touch only on the major doctrinal stances of Catholicism. With most other Christians, the Roman Catholic Church affirms both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, though they include the filioque clause in the latter, differentiating themselves from the Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church affirms that “The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God”  (CoCC, 135), as well as the canons of twenty-one councils ranging from Nicaea to Vatican II. Among the doctrinal points which distinguish the Catholic Church from her Western Protestant brothers and sisters are the sacraments, Marian doctrines, views on justification, and teaching on Papal infallibility. The RCC believes in seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance and reconciliation, anointing the sick, holy orders (the priesthood), and matrimony. The four Catholic Marian doctrines state that Mary may be called the Mother of God (theotokos, the ‘God-bearer’), was bodily assumed into heaven, remained a virgin perpetually, and was conceived without original sin. Catholic teaching affirms that the Pope (whose full title I need to work in here:  ), when speaking ex cathedra as teacher of the church, is infallible on matters of faith or morals (Vatican I, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 4.9). The most important modification to the Catholic Church in recent decades was the Second Vatican Council, which (among other things) named Protestants “separated brethren” and encouraged the delivery of Mass in the vernacular (instead of Latin). Such changes undoubtedly have helped fuel the increasing number of Protestants who have migrated to the Catholic Church in recent years.

Local Church Experience

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church

We visited St. Leo the Great Catholic Church this past Sunday for our local engagement with the Catholic Church. Having been to Mass before, we were fairly confident in what we would walk into, but were surprised on several fronts nonetheless. The first thing we noticed upon arriving was the food for the poor, which was overflowing into the entrance of the building. The second thing we noticed were the folding chairs– the church was packed, in spite of the fact that we attended the fourth service of the day. The sanctuary was already so full by the time we arrived that we barely grabbed a seat in the last pew, and people were quickly filing the folding chairs along the sides of the sanctuary and the back. The ushers were bringing people and having to make room for people for the first half-an-hour or so of the service. The third thing we noticed was the diversity. People of all ages (lots of children and teens included), backgrounds (from suits to shorts and t-shirts), and ethnic backgrounds were worshiping together. Even the priest who was preaching was from Germany. One thing we would add is that if we had not been familiar with the basic parameters of Mass (i.e., what a hymnal was, how to use the service booklet, to not go up to communion), we probably would have been quite lost, as there wasn’t much instruction of any sort. Overall, our visit was very positive and eye-opening, and we were glad to have worshiped with our Catholic brothers and sisters.

Thank you for following along with our Church Search. We wrap up our “First Exposure” phase with a visit to the Eastern Orthodox Church in a few weeks. We look forward to sharing our experience with you.

Reflections on an MA

“A man who has been many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” –C.S. Lewis
WFU Graduation

WFU Graduation

Monday marked the official completion of my Master of Art’s degree from Wake Forest University. It has been a long and interesting two years here in Winston-Salem (NC), two years of learning and joy mixed with heartbreak, pain, and uncertainty. Hayley and I have developed many good friendships while here in the South, grown together in our marriage, and learned much about balancing life, work, and education. While challenging at times, my time in the Wake Forest Religion Department was highly informative, and my work in the WFU Classics Department learning Greek and Latin was a blast (despite the long hours and frequent lack of sleep). Engagement with the perspectives of my colleagues and professors has been a formative experience that (I hope) has improved me as a person and as a scholar. Hayley and I have enjoyed having the time and freedom to enjoy each other’s company, to take long walks together, and to share the ‘Church Search’ experience with each other. We’ve been very blessed in doing life together here in North Carolina.

That said, we’ve also had some experiences which were not nearly as pleasant: the pain of church leadership devoted to their own agenda’s, the physical and mental anguish of an unknown health problem, and the uncertainty of what future schooling might involve. Nearly two years ago when planning the move to Winston-Salem, we purposed to make these years a challenge of sorts, seeking to experience life (married life, specifically) ‘on our own.’ There have been times when we felt this choice was a mistake. Our newly-married naiveté played into the church situation, though the developments in our own lives as a result of our Church Search have provided something of a silver lining to that pain. Hayley’s ongoing healthcare battle continues to weigh upon us both, though through a dear friend God has provided a doctor who is both professional and proficient. And despite months of uncertainty regarding where we were headed after Wake Forest and what we would be doing, we did finally receive guidance to our next stop in St. Louis. Continue reading